My father never signed me up for Little League or Boy Scouts or karate lessons. Instead, 25 years ago today, he sat me down to watch the premiere of the follow-up to a show he watched as a boy: Star Trek. The debut of The Next Generation in 1987 marked the first return of the show to television since The Original Series went off the air 18 years earlier. With TNG, Star Trek remained on TV for another 18 years, until the cancellation of Enterprise in 2005. It remained a weekly tradition for me and my father for that entire time, more than half my life thus far, and has defined more of my interests and ambitions than I can measure.
TNG is now being re-released on Blu-ray DVD, including several bonus features, such as "The Origins of The Next Generation". "There are a lot of issues and challenges in the Eighties and Nineties and the end of the century that need talking about — and they need talking about in drama, because drama will move people, cause people to think much more than any street show," said Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry. In the course of addressing those issues, Roddenberry and crew created some wonderful, memorable stories featuring a talented cast. I recounted many of them in a special package that friends Peter Watson, Gene Demaitre, and I put together for the show's 20th anniversary in 2007, but at no point did I specifically name my favorite episodes.
Since the cast and crew of TNG recently identified their favorites, I figured I should, too. So finally, out of 178 episodes, here are 14 that, in no particular order, stand out in my memory.
"The Offspring" — Data has a daughter. It addresses the need to prolong one's line even in the absence of emotion … and it challenges the viewer to mourn for Lal when Data cannot. On a happier note, I love the scene where she first meets Riker.
"QPid" — Q transports the Enterprise crew to Sherwood Forest. It's just a fun, silly episode. My favorite moment is from Worf: "I am not a merry man!" Also him smashing Geordi's lute, and Data taking an arrow to the chest.
"The Inner Light" — Picard lives a lifetime in a matter of minutes, during which time he learns to play the flute. Picard has gained and lost many families over the years, yet it would not be until the series' finale that he would finally find his home. Be sure to read the non-canon interquel, "The Promise" by Shane Zeranski.
"Who Watches the Watchers" — a Federation outpost on a pre-warp colony is discovered, and Picard must convince the natives that he is not a god. The lengths to which Picard will go to preserve the Prime Directive are a powerful testament to his commitment to the cause.
"Future Imperfect" — like with the series finale, we get to see the Enterprise of the future, courtesy a virus that has wiped out Riker's memories of the last 16 years.
"Data's Day" — Data learns to tap dance!
"Darmok" — Picard and an alien captain are stranded on an alien planet, where metaphor is the only common language.
"I, Borg" — the Enterprise intend to use a lone Borg drone as a bomb but instead turn him into an individual. Foreshadowing the film First Contact, Picard must balance his sense of justice with his thirst for revenge.
"Frame of Mind" — I love shows that have the viewer questioning what's real and what isn't. This episode, in which Riker finds himself in an insane asylum, questions everyone's sanity.
"True-Q" — a human girl (Olivia d'Abo of The Wonder Years) must decide what she will do with the power of the Q.
"Starship Mine" — describe as "Die Hard in space", Picard and a team of smugglers are pitted alone against each other on an abandoned Enterprise. Featuring Tim Russ, who'd later go on to play Tuvok on Voyager!
"Lower Decks" — an episode that stars four ensigns. This show is a good look at what life in Starfleet is like for those not on the Enterprise's bridge.
"All Good Things…" — I have an issue with the temporal mechanics of the series finale, but the story itself was a wonderful sendoff to the past, present, and future of the Enterprise and her crew.
There are many other excellent episodes in TNG's history — "Tapestry", "Measure of a Man", "The Best of Both Worlds", "A Fistful of Datas", and "Ship in a Bottle", to name just a few. But the above are representative of my fond memories of my first seven years as a Trekkie.
Live long and prosper!